The Life Aquatic
Written by Peter McClelland
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
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There’s something about life on the ocean waves that captures the imagination. In 2008 Dr Gordon Hay and his wife Dr Sally Garnett made that dream a reality by stepping off dry land and onto the deck of their 43-foot sailing catamaran, Morning of the Earth.

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“It was all about exploring other places, travelling to some pretty out of the way destinations, meeting new people and doing lots of diving, fishing and surfing,” said Gordon.

“There was a real sense of discovery, it was an amazing trip and we did it in our own kind of way – very different from hopping on an aircraft or ferry! I’d love to do it again.”

“We bought the boat in St Lucia in the Caribbean, sailed around there for about six months and did some locums and a fellowship. Then we sailed to Trinidad and lived there before coming through the Panama Canal, crossing the Pacific and finally making landfall in Coffs Harbour, NSW.”

Working, holiday, perfect

“After working on the north coast for a while we sailed up to Darwin, more doctoring in the Top End and then back to Perth. It was an amazing trip, and I was able to do part of my orthopaedic training along the way. I had fellowships in Switzerland and Auckland, with lots of locum positions.”

The two intrepid mariners didn’t have the fun all to themselves.

“We were joined on quite a few occasions by family members and friends. In fact, one couple joined us on the Panama to French Polynesia trip, which included an 18-day sailing leg to the Galapagos Islands. We stayed there for five weeks and it was incredible!”

“We had lots of exciting wildlife encounters, particularly with the seals. One morning we woke to six draped across the transom and one even came inside the cabin and made himself at home.”

“There were plenty of other interesting moments, too. We were swamped by a big wave in Tahiti that broke the steering gear and pushed us towards a reef but we were able to manoeuvre back into the safety of a lagoon and do some running repairs.”

“The fishing was amazing, really big tuna that were then grabbed by sharks. In Tonga and the Tuamoto Islands we were swimming around with hammerhead sharks. That was pretty spectacular.”

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Keeping it ship-shape

Gordon makes the point that, despite all the exotic flora and fauna, there is a more mundane and domestic aspect to off-shore cruising.

“There’s a fair bit of work involved in maintaining the boat. You need to keep all the systems running and there’s always something breaking down, from hydraulics to engines and the 12-volt DC power. It’s a major challenge, and it keeps you busy. I’m a pretty handy sort of person, I can turn my hand to most things but it’s a steep learning curve sometimes.”

“The catamaran was eight years-old when we bought it, and that’s about the time in a boat’s life when you start to have equipment issues. Fixing those sorts of things can be a bit tricky, particularly in a foreign port.”

“Although, despite all that, my one regret is that we didn’t spend longer at sea. I’d happily spend another year out there in the Pacific. There’s a lot of ocean out there, and thousands of beautiful islands.”

Although Gordon had plenty of sea miles under his belt, stepping onto a cruising catamaran was something a little different.

“I had sailed the Atlantic aboard the tall ship, Young Endeavour, but she had a naval staff crew so it was quite different to being at the helm of our own boat. I have to be honest and say I conned my wife into thinking that I had a bit more sailing experience than I actually had. She didn’t take long to realise that fact!”

“Thankfully, Sally proved to be a highly capable co-skipper.”

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Mod-cons make it easy

“The navigation part of it isn’t too difficult these days, mainly due to the fact that we have easy access to GPS and chart plotters. In the good old days you had to use a sextant and we did have two on-board although getting a bearing and doing the mathematics can be a bit of a challenge.”

“It was sad to see the boat go when we sold it, but we just weren’t using it. Our lifestyle has changed now. We’ve got two children – a five year-old and one at 18 months. It was better to have someone else enjoying the sailing than see it rotting away in a marina. The upkeep is expensive and we weren’t even using it on the weekend.”

“And really, the cruising grounds aren’t all that great out of Busselton. It’s so different in the Caribbean, where you can go for a three-hour sail and end up in another country.”

So, would they do it all again?

“We’d love to do another trip, maybe next time with our children. Once they get to about 10-12 years-old and can swim, look after themselves a bit and sail the boat it would be a wonderful experience.”

“But life’s great at the moment. We live in Yallingup, which is a lovely place. My wife and I both surf and we have a lot of fun as a family. I’m a lucky man.”

By Peter McClelland